Tuesday, September 29, 2015

{Schoolhouse Review} ~ Middlebury Interactive Languages

Every one of my kids needs to take a year of a foreign language in high school. I know teeny bits of Spanish but definitely not enough to teach it, so I rely on other programs for this. And that was why I was excited to review Middlebury Interactive Languages.

 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

What It Is:

Middlebury offers courses for homeschooling in four languages: German, Spanish, French, and Chinese.

We chose the Spanish courses. Bookworm helped my decide, actually. She had done Spanish I last year, so we decided to push into Spanish II.

Middlebury has many levels of Spanish:

  • Elementary (Both K-2 and 3-5)
  • Middle School Spanish 1 & 2
  • High School Spanish I, II, & III
  • High School Fluency I & II
  • AP Spanish

These interactive course focuses on four skills; listening, reading, speaking, and writing.

The level we chose, Spanish II, is divided into two semesters, with 18 units each. The schedule is easily seen every time you log into the website. Each unit or week, has five lessons. Which makes it easy to assign work for each day of the week.

 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Each lesson is laid out in an organized way.

The vocabulary words are all listed right at the beginning of the lesson. You can easily hear how to pronounce each word by clicking an icon next to each word. The student then does exercises in grammar, matching correct phrases with photos, listening to conversations, and reading comprehension.

Each lesson has between 6 to 12 activities to check off. Bookworm spent between 20 and 45 minutes a day doing Spanish; I also required her to write out all her vocabulary words with the English definitions each week. Because of this, I would count each semester as a half credit towards foreign language for high school.

How We Used This And What We Thought:

Scheduling this into Bookworm's school day was easy. When I filled out her weekly schedule I would just put the unit and lesson number for her to do. She did this independently, but for review purposes I would sometimes watch over her shoulder. The pronunciation in the program was so helpful. The pace was good and definitely at the high school level.

There is also a helpful calendar which makes it very easy to see where your student is. I was also able to get online and see her work and how far she had progressed.

One thing that was frustrating for her, was that the vocabulary word lists are not translated. She was asked to guess what some of the words were at times. While I do think this is important so that you can see the correlation between English and Spanish, it can be frustrating for some learners. Bookworm does learn better when she can see exactly what she is learning and isn't asked to guess.

We overcame that part of this program by my requiring her to look up any new Spanish words in a Spanish-English dictionary. She began a dictionary of her own, and would use it to learn her words for the lessons.

One part of the program that I really liked were the Cultural Tidbits. These pages gave information about different areas of Mexico, and gave background information. She watched a video on the cultural custom of greeting with a kiss, and another on Things to See in Mexico.

So while we did struggle with some of the learning, overall I liked this online language learning program.

Other members of the Crew reviewed other languages and levels; check out what they thought by clicking below.

 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Crew Disclaimer

Monday, September 28, 2015

{Schoolhouse Review} ~ USAopoly

I love finding fun ways to learn, so when I heard about these games coming up for review, I knew we had to give them a try.

 USAopoly Review

What It Is:

USAopoly has some really fun games that they have produced! Our family has been playing with two of them for the last few weeks: Wonky: The Crazy Cubes Card Game, and Tapple: Fast Word Fun for Everyone.

First off, we opened Tapple.

 USAopoly Review

Tapple is a fun word game, meant for ages  8 and up with 2-8 players. This is a timed game, so you will need 2 AA batteries to play. Everyone will sit in a circle with the Tapple game in the middle.

 The first person chooses a category from the card, taps the timer (the red button) and then has ten seconds to say one item and press the letter their answer starts with.

For example, one of the categories is "in the jungle". If you answered monkeys, you would press the "M". The catch is that once a letter is pressed, it can't be used again.

 If you can't answer within ten seconds, the buzzer sounds and you need to back out of the circle.

The game continues around the circle, until there is only one person left who can answer with the remaining letters.

The cards have hard and easy sides, with a total of 144 categories.

 The other game we reviewed was Wonky.

USAopoly Review

This is a cube balancing game, with a twist. Two to eight players can play, ages eight and up.

Everyone playing gets 7 cards; these cards tell you what move you can make with which block on your turn. 

There are nine blocks, 3 large, 3 medium, and 3 small.

 But these blocks are not perfectly square. They have slight curves and so you must be very careful as you add them.

You can see below in the photo that Nutsy played a card that told her to put a small block on the stack, and she could choose the color.

You want to get rid of your cards so strategy is important. The block you need to put on might already be in play, or you might be asked to place the large block on and it falls. If you knock down the tower you need to draw three more cards, so you do need to plan out your moves.

There are two types of cards; the one you see above is a block adding cards, but there are also pass cards (basically a free turn) or reverse cards (which can mess up the person next to you!).

The game is won when the first person gets rid of all their cards.

What We Thought:

These were super fun games for our homeschooling. I was very happy that all of the kids, ages 10 to 18, had a fun time with both of them. 

As we played Tapple, a lot of times Nutsy was the first one out. But the game moves so fast that she was not watching for long. I loved it that the deck of cards fits nicely in the bottom of  device, and it can either be stored in the box or in the game closet.

This game really made the kids ( and adults) think: quick, can you think of a drink or beverage that starts with the letter H? For those really smart brains there are overtime rounds, where you re-set the letters and now need to give two answers for each letter in ten seconds.

I think you could play this with more than 8 players; especially if you use the easier categories. And it is easy to pass around to each person in a circle if that works better.  

Now, what did we think of Wonky?

This game was not about speed but more about strategy. You have to evaluate, not only what is going on with the blocks on the table, but also what cards you have still in your hand.

And lest you think that the stacking is easy, I will tell you that since there are 'wonky' sides to the blocks, it takes some skill to stack. Nutsy did fine; but a child younger than age 5 or so might have trouble stacking. This game also took a little more explaining; the first time we played we all played with our card hands face up, so that we could see how it worked.

One thing I really liked about Wonky was that even though it came in a nice wonky box, the blocks came in this lovely cloth bag. The cards and even the small instruction booklet all fit in the bag, so it is very easy to transport.

Both of these games were very beneficial, and really made is seem like we were learning through play. As a homeschooling mom I love that; lots of times learning that sticks happens when we are having fun.

USAopoly has lots of other fun games on their website so check them out. And click below to see what other Crew members thought.

 USAopoly Review

Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

{Schoolhouse Review} ~ YWAM Publishing: Christopher Columbus

History is one of my favorite subjects to teach. So many stories are amazing, and I love finding ways that make it interesting for my students. YWAM Publishing is known for their Heroes in History Series; I was given the opportunity to review Christopher Columbus: Across the Ocean Sea, with the accompanying Unit Study Curriculum Guide.

YWAM Publishing Review

What It Is:

If you are unfamiliar with the Heroes in History Series, they are a plethora of books, written by Janet and Geoff Benge, on historical characters. At last count I have eleven of these books on my history bookshelves. Written in a straightforward, yet engaging manner, these books are perfect for studying important figures in our nations' history.

YWAM Publishing Review

I was pleasantly surprised then, when I found out that there was a Unit Study Curriculum Guide to go with most of these books.

And since we are studying explorers in history, it was easy for me to choose Christopher Columbus.

The book is soft cover and is 190 pages long. It is a good read aloud to the entire family, but can also be independently read by those reading at the 5th grade level and higher.

The story begins with Columbus' childhood and traces his first adventures as a seaman. Did you know he was shipwrecked on his very first sea voyage? He must have loved the ocean because we all know he hopped right back on and eventually became the first European to sail across the Atlantic.

I have read other books about Columbus, and was impressed with the accuracy of the book. We found the text quite captivating and it really held the girls' attention.

The guide comes as a CD, but at the time of this review, the physical product is being phased out for a digital one.

Digital guides like this are so helpful; you can print off what you want and easily save the files to your computer after you download the guide. And there is no CD to loose or get scratched!

There are five files on the CD that open with Adobe Reader:

  • Classroom Overview Guide: this file gives suggestions for using either a single title from one time period, or using multiple titles from an era. There are also suggestions for use and ideas for classroom displays, homework, projects, and resources. 
  • Group Overview Guide: this file is similar to the Classroom Overview, but also has a weekly schedule that is very helpful.
  • Homeschool Overview Guide: again, very similar to the other guides, but there are also suggestions for parent-guided learning, student-directed learning, and working with children of varying levels. 
  • Unit Study 1: this is the meat of the study. At 75 pages, there is plenty of ideas, questions, projects, and things to study.
  • Unit Study 2: included in this file is a worksheet on Columbus, four different maps for mapwork, and a timeline template to copy and use.

In the main part of the Unit Study you will find a plethora of information and ideas.

There is a section of Key Quotes. These are notable quotes by various historical figures and can be used in many ways. Memorization, as an art display, copywork....many of these ideas are discussed in this section. Another part is titled Display Corner. Now you might think that this is only for classroom schools, but it is very easy to turn a corner (or part of a wall!) in your dining room into a display. Listed in this section are plenty of suggested display formats. Everything from actual items, maps, charts, and artwork can be displayed.

There are chapter questions, which I always appreciate. And Appendix B has all of the answers, which is always a plus. Many of these questions are thought questions; for example in one question students are reminded of Columbus' goals in the new land: to make profit from gold, and to also convert the natives to Christianity. They are asked to think about these two goals, if they are compatible, and which one would give him more motivation.

There is a section titled Student Exploration. Here, you will find all sorts of suggestions, including creative writing, essays, hands-on projects (making a mural map), arts and crafts (making a model of the ships), and audio-visual projects (writing a play).

The next chapter in the unit study is Community Links. This part gives you the teacher, suggestions that can further learning outside of the home. Finding a museum, or someone who works on ships, and going on fiend trips are some of the many suggestions.

The section called Social Studies has specific activities that students can do. Mapwork, vocabulary, geographic terms, and timelines are all covered here.

Related Themes to Explore is exactly that; a graph shows many other areas of study that you could learn about while doing this unit study. Celestial navigation, tourism, and voyage provisions are only a sampling of the ideas on this page.

Finally, the last section is Culminating Event. Within this part are ideas for a final project, when the unit study is complete.

There are appendixes with sources, related movies, articles, and documents, and the chapter questions.

How We Used This And What We Thought: 

I decided to use this with the younger girls. We would gather each school day and I would read a chapter of the book. I printed out the chapter questions, and would pause to ask them what a word meant, or to describe a concept. I also printed out a world map (from Unit Study 2) and the girls would study it as I read. They loved tracing his ship journeys on the map as we went through the story.

Using this unit study meant a bit more preparing for me. Basically, all the information is in the guide, but you get to decide what to use and when to use it. Except for the maps and timeline in Unit 2, there are not any templates, so you do need to come up with any designs for the Display Corners on your own.

When we would read the girls would draw on paper, so then I had them writing the answers to essay questions on the back. We also colored and cut out a drawing of Columbus that I had found online. I used a few of the quotes for copywork; I love finding good quality sayings for my kids to read and hear.

Another part that I used almost everyday was the vocabulary section. I would type the words into a document and have the girls use them in a sentence. We also used the suggested map locations to do map work. Doing map work when you are studying explorers is a must!

So my opinion? I really love the Heroes of History Series. These books are so enjoyable to read; many times the girls begged me to continue reading when I came to the end of the chapter. The Unit Study Curriculum Guide was harder for me to use. Part of it might be my laziness; I love being told what to do in a program, and not having to create a schedule of extra curricular things that compliment the book. Don't get me wrong, there are great ideas in the Guide, but it is up to you to decide what you will do when. For those of my fellow homeschooling moms who are super creative, and don't like the confines of a boxy schedule, this Guide would be perfect for you.

I did appreciate many of the ideas, and was very pleased with how much my girls did learn through this Study Guide. There were many other titles that other Crew members reviewed: CS Lewis, Ronald Reagan, Davy Crockett, Corrie Ten Boom, and many others.  Check out what they thought by clicking below.

YWAM Publishing Review

Crew Disclaimer

Monday, September 21, 2015

Monday Musings

What I'm thinking: That entering our third week of school, I am feeling pretty good about our subjects and pace. We have been able to keep to the schedule I have put together, and I am already seeing improvement in a few areas.

What I'm reading: I started reading Pioneer Girl, an autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder ( edited by Pamela Smith Hill) that was just recently published. So far I am really liking it.

What I'm listening to: Right now I am listening to Dave Ramsey's radio station. We went through his high school course last year, Foundations in Personal Finance, and like listening to his show.

What we're learning: School is in full swing! I spend time with the two girls each morning while Bookworm does her independent work, then in the early afternoon we come together for literature and Bible. In co-op this year we are doing writing, Renaissance history, and geology/fossils (high schoolers) and earth science (younger kids).

What's cooking: This week I am making a pot roast with fall vegetables, beef tacos, and Tandoori Chicken on the grill. I also need to bake a couple loaves of my whole wheat bread, and make another batch of homemade granola.

What I'm buying: I went out today with Bookworm and we found a good sale for some fun scrapbooking supplies. I am planning to do a fun memory project with the girls this week.

What I'm creating: Writing lessons. Institutes for Excellence in Writing has come out with a new Teaching Writing, Structure and Style, so I plan to re-watch and study to help me teach writing to all our co-op kids this year.

What we did this last weekend: On Saturday we took a trip to Tahoe with our friends; the weather was amazing and we had a great time playing on the beach. Sunday we had church, then had 3 other families over for fellowship in the afternoon. Then back to church for monthly Bible study.

What I'm looking forward to: We have a busy week ahead, with a more relaxed week next week. Dasher is scheduled to get her braces off very soon, and there is a fun birthday party for a friend this weekend.

A picture to share:

~Sunset, Pope Beach, South Lake Tahoe

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

{Schoolhouse Review} Super Teacher Worksheets

As a homeschooling teacher, there are many times when I feel like I don't have the resources that classroom-school teachers have. I don't have the fancy Xerox machines, the art room, or the break room with coffee. (Oh, actually I do. It's called the kitchen.)

One thing I feel like I can always use more of is worksheets. And that is where the website Super Teacher Worksheets and their Individual Membership comes in super handy!

Super Teacher Worksheets Review

What It Is:

Super Teacher Worksheets is an amazing resource for homeschoolers. With thousands of worksheet pages, games, and activities, there is something for everyone.

Some of the many categories of worksheets you will find are:

  • Math - everything from addition to basic algebra
  • Reading and Writing - reading comprehension, story helps, and more
  • Phonics and Handwriting - mini books, building sentences, printing and cursive
  • Grammar and Spelling Lists - K through 5th grade levels
  • Science - animals, the human body, machines, space.....
  • Social Studies - maps, explorers, the 50 states 

 and many, many more!

I have spent the last month or so exploring this site and have used countless worksheets, and I still feel that I haven't seen it all.

The website is well organized; you click on a general category, which then leads you to specific topics, and then a descriptive list comes up with all worksheets in that topic. You can easily see a preview of each worksheet, and then very quickly download them, using Adobe Reader. The suggested grade levels are listed there also. All of the worksheets have an answer key included in the download which I was very happy about.

Another feature of the site is the "File Cabinet". This is a place where you can easily save worksheets that you might use more often. For instance, I decided to use a spelling list to work with Nutsy for a few weeks. I was able to easily save this to my File Cabinet, which was accessible with one click.

There is even a Teacher Helper section, which has printable gradebooks, homework assignment sheets, monthly calendars, printable sticker charts, award certificates, and lots more.

One part that I utilized was the Worksheet Generator. You can choose the number of questions, what format (multiple choice, fill in the blank, short answer or matching), math worksheets, words searches, crossword puzzles, and printable flashcards.

Super Teacher Worksheets Review

Pretty much any worksheet you can think of, you can generate with this great resource for homeschool printables!

How We Used This and What We Thought:

I had all sorts of ideas for this resource. First off, I used the spelling lists for Nutsy. She loved the worksheets that went with them, and I loved that they grouped lists that had common phonetic spellings.

I also had her use lots of the phonics worksheets. When I would notice that she was struggling with a certain phonogram, I would print off a worksheet to reinforce that concept.

She loved doing Word Wheels; taking a break from writing to cut and color a worksheet was a fun activity for her.

We also used the maps section in Social Studies.

In our co-op we are studying explorers; we printed out a large world map and then cut out the continents and oceans. The younger kids in our group had a blast putting the place names on the correct spot.

And since we were studying explorers, I found a cut out of Christopher Columbus, which the girls had fun putting together with brads.

When I first looked through the site I  thought that only my younger two would be doing this product. But while looking through the plethora of math topics, I found some that even Bookworm could do. She is doing a remedial math course this year and I loved finding more advanced math worksheets that were very helpful for her. Some of the ones that middle school/high schoolers could use to brush up on math are advanced fractions, long division, algebraic expressions, and geometry worksheets.

I found this website to be a perfect compliment to our homeschooling. Do you ever wish there was one more worksheet on the times tables? Or is your child struggling with grammar and needs just a little more help? This online resource is perfect for those situations. It can also breath fresh air into a boring subject and give extra practice to those who need it.

Wonder what others thought? Click the link below to see!

Super Teacher Worksheets Review

Crew Disclaimer

Monday, September 14, 2015

My Week In Images and Words

I am not very inspired to do any writing right now, with school and 4-H in full swing. Life is busy, full, and good.

So here is my week.....

Piano lessons started back up for Bookworm. I really like her teacher, who participates in the Certificate of Merit. This keeps her on track and ensures she is learning theory and music knowledge, along with the many songs she is learning.

All three girls spent time hitting the books this week. We had a GREAT school week, and got all the items on our schedules done.

I even had time for my baking day. I love, love, love making my homemade whole wheat bread for the family. And they love eating it.

Towards the end of the week our skies looked like this; there is a pretty large fire about 40 miles south of us and we had both light ash and smoke. But today I am hearing that it is slowly being contained, and we even had a short, lovely rain shower.

We remembered 9.11. All of the kids watched a short video about it, and we talked about what happened, 14 years ago.

And the big news of the week? This young man, passed the ASVAB exam! (Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery) He is planning on going into the Air Force Reserves in early March. For now he is working 30-40 hours a week as a prep cook and waiter at a retirement community near us.

Glimpses of my week.....

Friday, September 4, 2015

My Week In Images

My week....

The little girl who thought to bring her bear shopping.....

 because this won't last forever.

This sky......

because it is God's creation.

This 4H officer meeting....

because learning about helping others is important.

This book......

because I am really enjoying it.

This relaxing day......

because I love my family.